Sunday, 20 January 2008

Phew! Relief...what a bitch!

It was as if his skin was on fire. The heat surrounded him like a tight-fitting cloak from which there was no escape. The hot air in his nostrils and mouth was making it painful to breath. Breathing was becoming laboured. The sweat was welling out of every pore over his body. Why was he immersed in this torture, as if enveloped in the fiery pits of hell itself? As he looked at the clock, time seemed to slow ever more, prolonging the evil heat that penetrated every inch of his body. How much longer would he have to endure this pain?

Not for much longer it seemed. He finally lost his battle with the heat...

And then I got out of the sauna!

Yes. I was in a sauna. In the Antarctic. What a novelty.

I positively hate saunas, but the novelty of sitting in one while in Antarctica was just too compelling.

For a few days towards the end of December I was spending a few days living on the RRS Ernest Shackleton, (one of the two ships operated by BAS). It has a sauna on board. The Shackleton was docked at the sea-ice for relief operations, and I was to spend a few days working from the ship during Halley VI relief for when the Russian brute of a cargo ship the “Amderma” arrived.

The RRS Ernest Shackleton


So once again, I have left it almost a month since my last entry, and I am regretting it as

a) I have shed loads to write about, and

b) I cannot remember half of the good stuff I wanted to tell you about at the time they occurred.

I’ll try my best though, and will try not to disappoint.

Oh and do keep the comments on the blog coming. I enjoy reading your input and feedback. I apologise for not replying to them, but I get no forwarding addresses given with them.


Before I start, a quick promo for the theatre I act for.

The next production by the Boundary Players in Aldermaston, Berks is upon us.

At the William Penney Theatre, Aldermaston Recreational Society

'Glorious' by Peter Quilter

(Tuesday 5th February to Saturday 9th February)

The play is based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress and socialite in the 1940’s, who wanted to be a great operatic diva despite having one of the worst singing voices in history. We follow her, and her ardent (and equally eccentric) companions, from the arrival of her new pianist (the previous pianist had to be replaced because his “wind” problem drowned out the piano) to her crowning moment singing in front of a sold out concert in Carnegie Hall.

The play is a joy, funny and wonderfully quirky.

On with the blog...

Christmas day – 25-Dec-07 (well duh!)

Christmas morning, and I'm up again at 0630 to start the morning met.

Cheery choruses of “Merry Christmas” rung through the corridor of the Laws building. I wasn’t feeling either cheery nor Christmassy. Many people’s wishes of good tidings were met by a primitive grunt by myself. It was Christmas...I was working...and I was not feeling the vibes.

By mid-morning after phoning home to talk to the family, I decided that it was time I forced myself to enjoy Christmas. The Antarctic Monkey helped to cheer me up by jumping upon the wooden Christmas tree made by Tom last year and muttering something about how he was “sitting on wood”. I sniggered. I then whacked on some Xmas tunes on the stereo and forced myself to absorb the Xmas vibes. By smoko I was feeling all Christmassy, which was enhanced by the announcement that work was to stop at 1600 and a Christmas dinner was to be put on in the evening.

Antarctic Monkey acting as a fairy for the festivities

I had rescued my P-Boxes from the depot lines that very week and from them I fished out my special Xmas tie. The one with the evil grinning reindeer with flashing red eyes. We enjoyed a lavish dinner and enjoyed our ration of 2 alcoholic drinks. It was later that evening I was informed that I was to go to the sea-ice in the morning to work as sea-ice drivers mate for the Halley VI relief operation. (see the last entry for a description as to what a drivers mate actually entails).

The Sea-Ice – 26-Dec-07

Creek4 is the official designation for where relief operations were conducted this season. It is a natural creek formed where the ice-shelf breaks off into the sea. Sea-ice usually forms around these structures where a natural bay is produced by the jutting of the cliffs. The sea-ice forms a perfect platform for the ships to dock and be unloaded. Creek 4 is approx 10km from Halley V (it used to be further when Halley V was built in the early 90s. The gradual flow of the ice-shelf to the sea means that the base has moved approx 20km closer to the sea in the past 17 years or so).

A ramp was plowed to allow ease of access for vehicle to the sea-ice from the cliffs.

Brian the ’07 plumber and myself were to be transported to the creek to swap with the two RAF chaps who needed to complete their work at Halley. We were given the privilege of being transported in relative luxury in the new sledge. It's an enclosed, heated and upholstered sledge with padded seating. Wow! I have dubbed the “royal carriage”, some call it the "simulator", others call it "thunderbird 4". Whatever it is, it is a fun ride.

Me, royaly waving goodbye to the dirty rascals from the royal carriage

Brian and myself getting ready to be ferried to the ice cliffs...

...which was a bit of a squeeze with all our baggage and emergency kit

On arriving at the cliff, the fleet of sno-cats were awaiting patiently for the start of the next stage of relief... cargo discharge for the Halley VI construction.

Sno-Cats, poised and ready for relief action upon the cliffs of the ice-shelf

The Amderma was just a few miles off the sea-ice steaming in to moor up later that evening. We "checked in" into our new accomodation, being transported by Ben the chief vehicle mech and logistics guy. Preparations were being made for the arrival of the Amderma, such as the staging ground being groomed to make a flat hard surface for the sno-cats.

One of the newer sno-cats grooming the surface of the sea-ice

Rear view from the Shack bridge

While waiting for the action to start some of us went on a wander around the sea-ice around the ice-cliff edge. Some of the naturally formed features were quite a view. Like this wabbit.

With the constantly changing weather, structures like this are usually hare today, gone tomorrow!

It was formed by a combination of the ice being sublimed by the sun and scoured by the wind. Well, that's my assumption anyway.

Penguins are not the only wildlife we witness around here. Some local birds include Skuas and Snow Petrels. Here is a skewer, looking all cute and innocent. But they hide a sinister evil...they eat penguin chicks! *boo & hiss*

Occasionally a snow petrel or a skua will fly over Halley base. It's very odd to see a bird in flight down here as there are no other wildlife or trees etc to assoiate them with.


Snow accumulates on the sea-ice, and is often scoured away by the winds to leave a perfect ice-rink. In this pic I tried to capture the drifting snow across one of these ice patches

Some of bottoms of the cliffs have features formed by the constant rising and lowering of the sea-ice with the tides. These are known as "something I cannot remember at this precise time". They can form some mini-caves and overhangs such as this one. Big icicles can form below them:

Hmm...t'was a shame that it suddenly went overcast at the time making the contrast rubbish for good shots of icicles

The Shackleton

Our wintering Field Assistant Rich B looking through a hole

Later that evening the Amderma arrived and was moored up by 0300 hrs ready for the beginning of the relief operation on the following day shift.

The Amderma - ex-cold war tank transporter (apparently), and overall rust bucket needing a huge lick of paint.

“Fesco, the Russian answer to the UKs Tesco, have expanded its business operations to home delivery of flat-pack Antarctic research stations.”

Halley VI relief starts

For the next 5 days I was on relief the Shackleton was my home, and I had an entire 4 berth cabin all to myself with en-suite shower facilities.

Well, I had a room-mate on my first evening but I was not told that I was to have one. Kirk, summer field assistant and BAS official filmographer of the Halley VI project, came in at 0200 in the morning after filming the mooring of the Amderma. He crept into the room startling me from my slumber. I was in shock. Who was this intruder?! There I laid motionless fearing for my arse...literally.

Having never slept on a ship before, and having watched and read enough media regarding the antics of seamen to feed many a misconception, my imagination was running wild as to what intentions this late night prowler in my cabin had in mind. As my brain woke up, logical thought kicked in and I realised that it was Kirk. I could tell by the huge fluffy microphone he wielded in his hand. Then again, with my previous assumptions of a good butt raping still fresh in my mind, I sincerely hoped it was a microphone and not some other implement of pleasure/torture!

But for the rest of the week I had the cabin to myself, (the door now being locked prior to going to bed). I never will experience this kind of luxury again for the next 12 months, so I lapped it up. Including “enjoying” the sauna on-board. The luxury was well needed after enduring 12 hours of hard physical labour in the harsh weather each day. It was, in a metaphorical sense of the word, quite orgasmic.

Sno-Cat hauling some heavy cargo

A rubbish attempt to show what riding on the sled behind a sno-cat was like...steel girders, woo!

It was a choice as to how the drivers mate travelled. Following on a ski-doo or sitting with the cargo on the sledge. I opted for the ski-doo with the logic that if the sno-cat went through the ice, the sledge would be closely following it.

My ride (an Alpine II ski-doo) and the Amderma

Sea-ice work was pretty hairy at times. The shape of the edge of the sea-ice and the mammoth size of the Amderma were not ideal and so the ship was moored with a good 6' gap between the ice and it. With the cranes on board only capable of a 12' reach, this meant that the sno-cats had to stop right at the edge of the ice to take on cargo weighing more than 6 tonnes at a time. Luckily the ice (3m thick) held the weight and relief went without a major incident.

Sea ice work was also fun at times. The weather was pretty crap all the time I was there, with winds, heavy snow at times and high humidity. All combined, the weather led to it being quite a wet week. However, the snow was luckily the kind that could be compacted into some meaty snowballs. A snowball fight usually developed on the rides back to ship during smoko. Two men sitting on the back of a ski-doo against the rest of the crew in the happy sled being pulled behind it. Oh, how the Antarctic turns you into children again.

Big fluffy snow...rare here actually

Now and again a penguin would saunter past not paying any attention to the work going on around it. And every so often a group would suddenly appear at the edge of the ice. Unfortunately I never saw any actually jump out of the water, but Kirk shot some brilliant images of them.

There were many rumours and stories abound regarding the Russians. Some of the Morrissons construction crew travelled down via the Amderma and so had the pleasure of being hosted by the Russians on board. My favourite story being one of the crew being shown pictures by a Russian of his daughter and how the Russian was offering her as a wife to him!

A new year, a new phase - 4th Jan 2008

On New Year’s Eve, I was pulled off the sea-ice to return to base to continue with my important role as Metbabe Extraordinaire. It was a shame that I wasn’t going to see the whole of Halley VI relief through to the end, but I had done my part, and I felt proud to be involved. But looking on the brightside, I was back on base in time for New Year celebrations. Again, we enjoyed 2 rations of alcohol and some specially made mulled wine. The new year was seen in with us conducting a flag ceremony. The oldest member on base (Pete) lowered the Union Flag just before midnight, and the youngest member (Jim) raised a new one just after midnight.

Pete lowering the wind tattered Union Flag (pre-midnight)

Jimbo raising the new Union Flag (post midnight)

Seeing the Union Flag hoisted high above the pristine white plains of the British Antarctic Territory was rather symbolic, and very nearly brought a tear to my eye. Rule Britannia. *sniff*

The new year also brought sad and worrisome news to me.

It was time for the Shack to leave, and therefore, time for the existing metbabes Tamsin and Kirsty to depart and leave me to run the met at Halley by myself. When Tamsin informed me of the news I just couldn’t stop myself from throwing myself on the floor in blind panic and grabbing hold of her leg shrieking for her not to leave me! In full view of everyone.

(Yeah, I actually did).

She reassured me that my training was now complete. It was like a Jedi master reassuring their padawan:

“I can’t do it, I’m not ready” I cried

“You are ready” replied Tamsin

"But I've come from the sea-ice to complete my training" said I

"No more training is required" said Tamsin

"Then I am a metbabe." “But I can’t go about it all on my own” I retorted

“Simpson will always be with you” reassured Tamsin.

(Sir George Clarke Simpson –metbabe for Scott’s expedition 1910-1913 and director of the met office 1920-1938. An inspiration to any metbabe and also the chap who the Simspon platform is named after).

Before Tamsin and Kirtsy left, the Antarctic Monkey got to say his goodbyes too and got a kiss. (I’m not going to make the obvious comments about monkeys and kissing, and kissing monkeys, and kissing my mo...D’oh!).

There was a tearful farewell to the girls. And it did feel odd to say goodbye to Kirsty and Tamsin and knowing I would not be seeing them for a long time, if at all ever again.

(the base compliment of females suddenly dropped by 33% so it was a tearful moment for a lot of the men on base).

From Monday 7th onwards Dave Evans (the 3rd and final 2007 metbabe) was on a new contract under waste management. From that point on I was the met department at Halley. I am the met department at Halley. And also the scientist. And the electronic technician. And the data manager. I was soon to become very busy.

And busy I have become.

BBQ - 5th January 2008

Relief was finally over, and to celebrate we were treated to an evening BBQ. Everyone turned up en masse and there was a general feeling of euphoria that the 1st stage of the Halley VI project was over. The materials and equipment had arrived “safely” and just about in one piece...

I think those symbols on the side mean something!

The BBQ gave people the opportunity to let off steam and relax for an evening. The evening ended with a huge snowball fight between BAS staff and Morrisson contractors. Nothing like team spirit! Odd how we naturally formed into our divisions too.

Steve once again bores a different audience with his "the time I wrestled an emu" story!!

Joe and I getting rowdy on our 4 beers

The base came off 24 hour operations and we started a new rota at the beginning of the new week. It still means doing 12 hour days, but with 6 day weeks instead. Well, that is the case if you don’t work in meteorology. But as it happens, I do, and therefore some weeks I can end up doing 7 day weeks. It all depends on whether there is a flight due requiring weather observations radioed to the pilot.

Well, actually, there are plenty of people who do 7 day weeks here, but I like to state that it’s just me so that I feel pitied by all of you who read this blog! Pity me. Poor little hard-worked Dave.

The following weekend I almost had a day off on Sunday (13th Jan). But at 1500 I got told that I was to get kitted up as there was an opening in the weather and a flight to service the remaining LPMs was to go ahead. As collecting data off LPMs and raising the equipment above the accumulated snow is an annual event, I have to go on this year's flights so that I know what to do next year and train the padawan who will be under me next summer.

So Jules and I flew to two remote LPM stations on the continent and swapped the electronics out for later analysis back at Halley. At the same time we raised the loggers high above the snow surface.

Heroic pose next to an unraised LPM logger module...

...and Jules admiring our handywork after raising & servicing

The flight over the Hinge Zone once again revealed some amazing aerial shots of the cracks and crevasses and creeks on the ice-shelf. The shadows help give some definition of size. Just bare in mind that the photos were taken at a height of approx 2000ft.

Ice-shelf meeting sea-ice

A huge crack in the ice-shelf running from the cliff

Some Meteorological phenomena to feast your eyes upon

I have been taking several pictures of strange meteorological occurances in and around base since my eyes being opened to them during my training. Here are a few more of the good ones.

Miraging - Icebergs and the cliffs of the ice-shelf have been mirrored and flipped up by temperature inversions in the distance. Very freaky

A Stratocumulus cloud progressively invading the sky over the Laws platform

Irisation around some high Cirrocumulus cloud (approx 20000ft). The rays from the sun are refracted by the ice crystals of the high clouds to create lovely pastel pink and green shades in the cloud (I think).